Significance of Idol Worship
Many persons of non-Indian origin who are fascinated by the great philosophies found in Upanishads often wonder as to why in that land of such philosophical advancement, Idol worship considered inferior in philosophical maturity in worship exists! In fact even some Indians groomed in modern thought processes scorn such worship.
While it is true that abstract meditation on the Formless, Attribute-less Divinity is best, is it possible for everyone? Even some persons with sufficient spiritual maturity and philosophical depth feel attached to Idol forms and sometimes feel guilty about it or suffer a complex about this. Should they feel so? Will idol worship deter you from your final goal of Salvation? Let us get the concepts about Idol worship in perspective in this write-up.
Basic Forms Of Worship
In worshipping Divinity there are three basic forms…1) Nirguna – meditating on the formless, attributeless Absolute Divine 2) Saguna – meditating on a form of Divinity in which certain attributes are credited to that Form; 3) Saguna-Nirguna meditating not on humanly designed forms but invoking forces of nature like Wind, Lightning, power of the swirling waters, resilience of the bending bamboo, heat of the Sun, serenity of the Moon, etc.
Which Form Of Worship Is Best?
The Nirguna form is very good for ascetics, and persons who are sufficiently advanced in their meditative abilities and philosophical evolution in spirituality.
For the vast majority of persons, saguna worship is necessary in the initial stages of spiritual development….This is where idol worship comes! The iconographies are very scientific….the forms correspond to certain subtle, subconscious mental states and truths already embedded deep in our mind! (This is what Psychologists like Carl Jung call “Archetypes”). When we meditate on those icons, our mind connects with those attributes and hence realization of certain spiritual concepts becomes easier. Moreover, in mantrik applications, idols have their own special role to play. Mantriks usually employ both the saguna and saguna-nirguna forms for their purpose.
Idol worship creates a sort of desirable “attachment” to Divinity…..the idol becomes a “communication port” or “focus of spiritual energies” and serves as a link between the boundless, formless, Omnipotent, Omniscent Divine and the spiritual aspirant who is still in the infant stages of spiritual development. Even great Masters like Ramakrishna Parahamsa have been benefitted in their initial stages by idol worship. Saint Raghavendra of Mantralayam who still guides and helps His devotees from His Jeeva Samadhi was performing the pooja for Moola Raama Idol till He entered samaadhi voluntarily though He was a philosopher par excellence. Such saints perform Idol Worship for Universal Welfare. Those idols are almost repositories of spiritual energies which are constantly maintained by regular poojas done by the successors of those saints for posterity.
As everyone cannot identify with the formless Divine with infinite qualities, Divinities have blessed us with “archa” (idol) forms in which the boundless Divine is bound by certain parameters and attributes and as such approachable for the layman.
Moreover, nirguna worship confers ONLY spiritual progress while saguna worship like idol worship promotes both spiritual and material wellbeing and hence their significance for the common man. What is to be remembered is that while worshipping the idols/ natural force forms, the offering is made only symbolically to the forces/ the Idol while our real intent is to achieve communion with the Ultimate Divine. We should never lose sight of That Goal of our Existence though for mundane requirements using procedures related to idol worship are not erroneous in any way.
In the Bhagavat Gita, the Blessed Lord says In whatever form a devotee wishes to worship me and offer his salutations, I accept that myself and bestow the wishes. So, even philosophical devotees need not have a complex as to whether they are falling from their perfect state of realization if they have an attachment to any idol form. A day will come when you will attain the perfection to realize God within yourselves and in every living being or for that matter in every quark and atom, just by following the path of devotion to your personal Deity.
It is better to walk with the help of a stick and reach your destination safely rather than stumble and fall along the road due to false pride that may cause you to shun the walking stick. Idol worship is a useful walking stick that helps to balance the inherently imperfect human mind along the path to reach Divinity and Salvation. Once the goal of self-realization is reached and you are above wants, the walking stick (Idol worship) can be discarded conveniently, and others will use it intelligently following your example. In fact many great saints have done it that way and the idols worshipped by them during their spiritual progress are enshrined in many temples across India and are great centres of spiritual power to this day, and help millions in solving their mundane and spiritual dielemmas.
I intend to write a series on the Powers/ benefits associated with worship of various forms/ natural forces/ meditative images in due course.
A Prayer To The Divine For Our Enlightenment
Lead us along Oh Kindly Light Help us to understand that nothing in spirituality is false We are all progressing from the Lesser Truths to the Greater TruthsTill we reach the Higher Truths, please strengthen our Beliefs in the Lesser Truths that are going to lead us to the Higher ones..Help us to maintain our resolve and faith, and not stumble in our faith due to imperfect philosophical dilemmas.
Article by: Pandit R.DAKSHINAMOORTHI